Our Vietnam Generation Evening, Andiamo Banquet Center, may 23, 2010

You know that an event is off to a good start when the National Anthem is delivered in four-part harmony by one of the best barbershop quartets in Michigan.  Called, ‘Three Friends’ (though a fourth friend performs with them regularly), the local women performed a soul-stirring rendition of The Star Spangled Banner to the over two hundred guests. 

The event, held at Andiamo’s incomparable Warren banquet center, attracting veterans from three wars, all branches of the military and some of the biggest names in Michigan politics, including State Senator  John Pappageorge, Congresswoman Candice Miller and Attorney General Mike Cox.

Following a presentation by the Chapter 154 Color Guard and a rousing introduction by Pat Daniels, President of Chapter 154 in which he invoked the do-or-die spirit of veterans across the United States, Daniels made special mention of a number of notables in the audience, including Randy McConnell of Harrison Township, a sergeant in the 101st Airborne Division who was the recipient of seven Purple Hearts—more than any other living American.

Congresswoman Candice Miller, by coincidence, had worked with Randy McConnell in Flint in her early days as a public servant, and shared some reminiscences of their time together prior to her heartfelt talk celebrating our Vietnam generation and the value placed on them by the State of Michigan.

Mike Cox,  a former Marine corporal, received a resounding ‘Hoo-Rah!’ from the crowd prior to his impassioned reminder of the debt we owe all of our veterans.  He mentioned that his childhood images of Vietnam, delivered via Walter Cronkite and the evening news, had been the catalyst that had convinced him to enlist.  Like Congresswoman Miller, Cox made certain to acknowledge that the appreciation he felt, even as a fellow veteran, was matched only by his dedication that their service and sacrifice would not be forgotten by the State he represents.

Following a meal created to the expected standards of Andiamo’s, Michigan’s best loved Italian restaurant group, Executive Producer Keith Famie introduced ‘Look Away’, a beautiful tune written exclusively for Our Vietnam Generation by local singer/songwriter Steve Pichan.

Famie also requested a few words from an honored guest, retired Army general John Kulhavi.  Kulhavi is generally reluctant to speak of the medals he earned as a helicopter flight leader in Vietnam, including two Distinguished Flying Crosses, but he was eager to make sure that everyone present knew how he had relied, throughout his career, on one of the most underappreciated group in the military: the NCOs.

A special nod was given to the large contingency of South Vietnamese present, many of whom had fought alongside the men and women veterans present.  Among this group were Mr. Hai Troung , VP of VAAM, Mrs. Toan Le, Mrs. Vinh Doung, Mr. Vinh Doung - President, VAAM. Mr. Che Nguyen - President, South Vietnamese Veterans and Former Civil Servants. Mr. Xin Dam – VP of the  South Vietnamese Veterans and Former Civil Servants, Mrs. Xin Dam, Mr. Kham Nguyen – VP of South Vietnamese Veterans and Former Civil Servants, Mrs. Kham Nguyen and Mr. Toan Le from the South Vietnamese Veterans and Former Civil Servants.

A shortened version of Detroit: Our Greatest Generation was shown to thunderous applause, particularly because present was Jack Pickett, a survivor of D-Day and something of a hero in Southeastern Michigan due to his courageous thwarting of a robbery attempt in his home last year.

Finally, Famie showed a newly cut trailer of Our Vietnam Generation, which was greeted with tears and encouragement as the crowd of veterans, their friends, spouses and supporters came to understand the true value in this vital tribute. 

The film is shaping up to be the cinematographic equivalent of the most common exchange made between veterans of the Vietnam War:

“Welcome home.”



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